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Why Do Americans Romanticize the Amish?

Nov 2, 2004

There’s a very interesting and thought-provoking article in the October, 2004 issue of Washington Monthly by Sasha Issenberg entitled “The Simplest Life: Why Americans Romanticize the Amish.” Since the Grace Brethren have some common roots with the Amish, we are reproducing here the first several paragraphs with a link to the rest of the article. At Equip05 this summer, BMH is sponsoring a “Brethren Heritage Tour” on Thursday evening which will include touring the Menno Hof Interpretive Center of Anabaptist History which explains many of the historical links.

One might have expected the uproar that ensued last February when UPN unveiled plans for a reality show called “Amish in the City.” The premise–five Old Order Amish teenagers move to Los Angeles to live with six of their non-Amish peers, confronting the seductive powers of technology and libertinage–instantly aroused opposition from a coalition of Amish advocates, rural-life preservationists, and a majority of U.S. senators, who signed a letter accusing Viacom, UPN’s parent company, of bigotry. “Amish in the City,” these guardians of good taste insisted in newspaper ads and press conferences, would hold the Amish up to ridicule. (This was before the show had even been produced, let alone aired.) After mulling cancellation, UPN decided to air the show anyway, prompting Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-Pa.), who represents the heavily Amish Lancaster area, to tell local papers that “[t]he very nature of this program is offensive and exploitative.”

Pitts needn’t have worried. True, “Amish in the City” carries all the formulas of the strangers-in-house reality-show model. There are domestic struggles (who left the dishes out?), stunt-based excursions (in one episode, the Amish kids and the city kids swapped outfits and hit the streets) and direct-to-camera confessional scenes in which the participants talk about how it all makes them feel. But, with the exception of some dubious dental work among the women and some aggressively unstylish sartorial choices among the men, the show’s Amish characters don’t fare poorly at all.

Indeed, rather than deride its protagonists, “Amish in the City” does what Americans have always done: It admires the Amish. (to read more, click here)

To read an interesting review of an open-to-the-public meal in a northeast Ohio Amish home, click here.